On “Queer Hindsight”

By Jennie Roberson

December 05, 2022

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Photo credit: Pexels/Pixabay

I have absolutely no memory of what I was complaining about. What I do remember is that it was in senior year, while chitchatting with my friend, Brian, while we were eating lunch in our cool AP Government teacher’s classroom to avoid the rain. What I do remember about the story I was relaying to him was that I was racked with guilt about what I should have done about some problem, and I could only see now that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Brian munched thoughtfully on his peanut butter sandwich. After he swallowed, he replied: “Well, hindsight is 20/20.”

An attractive man and woman stand side by side while holding their chins and smiling. Deep in thought.
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What? My thought wasn’t one of incredulity but of curiosity. How had I made it seventeen and never heard this phrase before? To this day, I have no idea; but it was an idiom with such an immediately-clear meaning that my mind seized on it.

From that day on, whenever I found myself regretting some action or some pattern I hadn’t seen before, my mind slingshotted back to that conversation, and the clarity of that term. And, of course, I’ve made a ton of mistakes growing up and moving through this world, so that hindsight knocks about my brain all the time.

But there’s a particular flavor of regret that I think the bi community will instantly recognize and that oh so many of us have gone through. I like to call it Queer Hindsight.

Every bi person’s coming out experience, or realizing they’re bi story, is different and totally individualized to them. Of course, like 500 people going to a concert and then hearing 500 different stories, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t common threads in their narratives about it. A seventy-three-year-old realizing they are bi in a Catholic household in Suriname will have its own specific story points that are totally missing from the story of a thirty-five-year-old English girl realizing she likes girls as well as boys. That doesn’t mean they both didn’t have a moment of staring just a little too hard at Angelina Jolie on the silver screen. (And trust me — I know all about staring a little too hard!)

What I’m trying to say is, every bi person I’ve ever met — including myself — has had a few emotional touch points that are exactly the same, no matter the time, circumstances, background, or language. And that is Queer Hindsight — i.e. kicking themselves that they didn’t realize they were bi earlier!

“All the signs were there, Jennie! No one else was as into Mitski as I was!” “I always got teased about being indecisive! It’s so obvious now!” “I kept saying that I was straight except for (insert celebrity name here).”

I know. Boy, howdy, do I know. But what is the actual root of Queer Hindsight? Why do you feel guilty about it? And what do you do with this strange emotion? Well, that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons this crops up. For one, humans are predisposed to find patterns. It’s how we evolved. It’s literally how we function and how we have survived for millennia. It’s so ingrained in our psyche that we will often see patterns that are circumstantial or just happen to be there with no other agenda. It’s why we see faces in objects that aren’t there. So, of course, when we come to something as big as realizing a huge part of our sexual identity, we like to be good little detectives and turn over rocks in our past to see if there was a pattern we didn’t see before. Maybe we can pick up on more stuff we missed. Or it can give us clues on what to expect or what to do. Like maybe, that means that that hot androgynous person was picking up on your vibe before you did, and now you know ways to lay down clues to let them know they’re a dating option and and and...

Whew, it’s exhausting, isn’t it, this part of our brains?

Well, instead of focusing on our brains or our bodies with the next question: How do you feel about it?

Something a therapist said to me a while ago that I talk to my friends about when they’re making a decision now is how does an emotion feel in their body? Where does it live? Sometimes that emotional mapping tool can help us figure out that, while all emotions start off in the brain, certain groups of emotions are felt in different regions and can help us pinpoint how we feel. (Kind of like an emotion wheel! But the emotion wheel is your bodacious bod.)

Most often when I talk to people going through Queer Hindsight and I ask them this question, it’s less often in the part of the body or feelings wheel of revelation and closer to regret — whose root emotion is sadness.

Okay, so Queer Hindsight is coming from a place of regret. Let’s explore that.

Regret in what way? Regret in not seeing a pattern for the most part of our heteronormative upbringing, which we were never taught to recognize? Regret in lost time? Of course lost time sucks. Mourn that. But also, just posit for a moment: Part of your questioning was you figuring out this pattern, and now that you know who you are, now you can enter personal, dating, and emotional spaces with a better emotional toolkit! Isn’t that a good thing?

I guess I should get to my material point: the Queer Hindsight is multiple things at play, both emotional and intellectual. Make room for that and feel those feelings — sadness, loss, and all those hollow or frustrated emotions. Those are all incredibly valid. But once you’ve honored and acknowledged those feelings, I want you to take a closer look at how you’re talking to yourself after you’ve moved through them. Are you beating yourself up mentally for missed opportunities, for lost time?

What. is. the. point. of. that?

That is not what the questioning, younger part of you wants for you, I promise you.

I just want to say a few things about this: You’re not alone in those feelings. Every queer person likely has similar narratives they can relate to you about. And we have been raised in a capitalistic society that encourages us to be hard on ourselves so we can “people” better the next time.

How many times has that worked out for us?

The Queer Hindsight is a thing. It’s part of the process. It will fade with time. I promise you. But I deeply encourage you to be gentle with that younger version of yourself that didn’t “see the signs”. And with your current self. Because you are both of these sacred beings. And you both deserve gentleness. 

Turn that Queer Hindsight into a compassionate foresight. I promise you, from someone who has been there, in my own iteration - the gentler route is worth it.

An attractive man and woman smile while standing next to eachother looking at one another against a pink background.
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